Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It Was Not Death, for I Stood Up

"I don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it.  If you don't, you feel even worse.”  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Robin Williams was one of my mother’s favorite actors, and very quickly became mine. I think I was about Little Bear’s age when I first saw him in Popeye (and became acutely terrified of octopi immediately after that). I also think I was the only six year old to watch Good Morning Vietnam, and The World According to Garp - parts of which were blocked by my mother’s hands over my eyes and ears - because I was begging my mom to let me see him again in a movie. Thank goodness we got a copy of Toys a few years later, although I still sometimes yell “Watch out for the under toad!” while running into the surf at the shore. When I heard the news on Monday afternoon of Robin tragically taking his own life, my first thought was one of sorrow, that the world was a little bit darker without his light in it. My second was that my mother would be overjoyed to see him again in “person,” besides the one time she ended up seeking him out to apologize for her son kicking him in the leg in a hotel pool. But as I read the comments on every article and news posting, and have absorbed all the backlash pieces that have popped up, my main feeling is grief. For everyone out there that condemn his death, malign his name, and call him a cheat, a coward, a weakling, and - worst of all - selfish, I applaud your ignorance. And my wish for you is that you keep it your entire life. I would rather you shouted your stupidity at the top of your lungs till the end of your days than to ever have to be afflicted with something as dark and insidious as actual severe depression. I don’t like to talk about my health problems. Especially my depression and my anxiety. I know I’ve mentioned it, I’ve wrote about it, but I don’t like to talk about it. Mostly because of the opportunity for judgement from the blissfully ignorant masses that thankfully have no idea what its like. There are a slim few that I share this darkness with, in some ways to protect them from it, and in other ways to protect myself. Nothing irritates me more than those inspirational photos that say people need to just choose to be happy everyday. As if I chose this disease for myself, and was happy living with it. Might as well tell a cancer patient to choose not to have a tumor when they wake up every morning. Part of the misunderstanding I think lies in the word we use as the label itself. You can feel depressed without having depression. But having depression is nothing like being a little low in spirits that feeling depressed means. Let me just say that again to let it sink in. Having depression is nothing like feeling depressed. I’ve mentioned actual depression is insidious. You might even personify it as a kidnapper, or a jailer, because the first thing it does is isolate you. It isolates you from your family, your friends, the world in general. You start to feel irritable and angry with those around you, then awkward, and alone after you’ve driven them away. You can easily identify that something is different, something is wrong, which almost immediately translates into something being wrong with you. Everyone else seems to be able to laugh, or cry, or sleep at night, or wake up in the morning. Why not you? It also isolates you from the rational parts of yourself. That self esteem that your wonderful parents gave you, the compliments from your friends, the praise and promises from the love of your life that everything will be okay, and they love you anyway….they can’t get through. There is no cell service at this island you find yourself stranded where those encouraging messages could be received. You’ve become the new lead in Cast Away, but instead of having a benign volleyball to talk to, you’ve been left with a deceitful forked tongue serpent that likes to lie to you. You are on this island, trying to communicate with the people in your life, whom you can see, but not really hear or understand. Especially since they are shouting from so far away, and that serpent is right next to you, drowning out their words by speaking directly into your ear. And the longer the serpent is next to you, the more chance it has to wrap itself around you. At first the contact might even feel nice, or comforting - you can actually feel something for once! But ultimately, you realize that the closeness will eventually kill you if you don’t do something about it. So you struggle against its bonds hoping to free yourself. You struggle with those python-like bands around you every day, every moment. Some days its just too exhausting to fight them. The thought of making the effort to even get up out of bed in the morning is so overwhelmingly tiring you just don’t. Trying to smile, and converse, while those bands are squeezing around you, making your bones ache and your lungs pinch from lack of air is sometimes too painful. Every decision you make is weighed against the effort of moving, and carrying this burden wrapped around yourself. No one can reach you past its coils. You long for real contact. An actual true sensation of feeling something touching you besides this insidious serpent. With depression, the most vital decision is when you actually admit to struggling out loud. Sometimes, with the right support, you can get medication, and therapy. But its still a process. The pills don't take the serpent away like aspirin resolves a headache. The psychologist can't pry the lies out of your brain or stop their hissing from sounding in your ears. The bonded sensation still squeezes the breath out of you some days, and then feels like its fleeting the next. Or sometimes, it just doesn't help at all. And when the pain wears you down so much, and the people yelling can’t reach you, or hold you, and you have just been listening to the lies murmured about you for days, months, and years, unending, sometimes - like Robin - you do feel like the only recourse, the only relief, the only escape is to do something. Anything. The only thing you feel you really can do. Something drastic.
I want to tell you something else about depression. It might fly in the face of what you believe in - what every psychotherapist, psychologist, doctor, priest, rabbi, friend, parent, or child may tell you - but ending your life is not a weak, cowardly, thing. It takes someone strong to actually go through with it. To actually decide to act, to choose to go through with something so final and permanent that goes against the basic human instinct of survival, is, thankfully, not something everyone can do. And to be so desperately embattled with a serpent that it seems your only viable option to free yourself, is to end yourself, does not deserve condemnation or criticism. It deserves reflection, and empathy, and at the very least, understanding. In mourning, we all, selfishly, cry for what we have lost. We should also remember to find joy in what Robin has gained by finally being released from his bonds of disease. The cessation of his pain. "Genie, you’re free!"

~ I pray you've found peace and laughter in heaven, Mr. Williams. It was a privilege sharing time with you. My thoughts are with your family and friends. Say hi to my Mom for me. XOXO

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